Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite yesterday warned that Barbados was exposed now more than ever to threats of international terrorism, while stating that Government was prepared to meet local Muslims and Rastafarians halfway on the controversial requirement that female members remove their headdress when taking official photographs.
The matter was recently brought to the fore by one Muslim woman who threatened to take Government to court after she was ordered to remove her hijab to take photographs for a national identification card, passport and driver’s licence.
However, Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY yesterday afternoon that a proposed amendment to the law, which would allow both Muslim and Rastafarian women to keep on their headdress, while ensuring their faces are shown, had been before the Electoral Office for some time.
“They [Electoral Office] are proposing an amendment to the regulations that would enable people to maintain their headdress while enabling us to be able to satisfy ourselves that the person sitting in front of us, and the persons whose photograph we are taking, and the person, when you present the photograph, is the same individual. So that’s being addressed, in other words,” Brathwaite revealed.
However, he insisted that the move by Government was not due to any threatened lawsuit.
“It is being addressed because they have looked at best practices across the world and want to ensure that we can accommodate people’s religious beliefs, while satisfying our own national security requirements,” he said, adding that there was a broader issue of national security.
In this regard, he made reference to a recent incident involving seven Bangladeshis who had spent time in Trinidad and were later reportedly invited here by a section of the local Muslim community.
While Brathwaite declined to go into details on the matter, Barbados TODAY has been reliably informed that the matter involving the Bangladeshis ended up before the law courts after Immigration authorities refused to extend their stay here.
The action by the Muslim host was viewed as inimical to the country’s best interest, and though the case did not succeed in the law courts, authorities were concerned that attempts were being made to put the religious group’s interests ahead of the national interest.
The Bangladeshi incident apart, Brathwaite believes Barbadians in general need to be wary of the threat posed by terrorism, in an era in which the international group ISIS has been going after countries deemed to sympathetic to the United States, Britain and other perceived enemies of the Islamic organization.
Based on the island’s small size, the Attorney General further warned that it would be difficult for it to recover from the devastation of a bomb attack, which he said would not only adversely impact citizens, but could setback the vital tourism and international business sectors.
So seriously is he taking the threat of terrorism, that Brathwaite has also suggested that Barbados may very well have to divert some of its funding for social services, such as health and education, to national security.
“We now face the challenge of the need to spend more of our resources on security issues . . . [and] to bring onboard more Customs officers, more police, more immigration.
“We will have to spend more money and get more people onboard. It concerns me immensely,” Brathwaite emphasized. “What happens in the rest of the world will happen in the region, will happen in Barbados,” he warned.
“It is something we need to keep our eyes on. And as part of the national security apparatus, I certainly will be keeping my eyes on it more and more, because Barbados should come first . . . not religion, not whatever conviction,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“The national security considerations of this country should come first. We are too small to withstand any kind of threat or violence we have seen in other parts of the world,” he stressed, while asking aloud: Who would have thought 20 years ago, the country would be experiencing the level of gunplay that now exists?”